MINNEAPOLIS — A reward for clinching a playoff spot on the eve of the regular-season finale was that the Blue Jays could avoid a short-rest scenario for ace Kevin Gausman in the wild-card series.
On Monday, the Blue Jays made it official and gave the veteran right-hander the Game 1 start against the Minnesota Twins.
"It was pretty simple really," said Toronto manager John Schneider. "I think his body of work and wanting a guy out there to set the tone, you like Kev out there against anybody really."
Gausman was 12-9 this season with a 3.16 earned-run average. He led the American League with 237 strikeouts.
The Twins will counter with Pablo Lopez (11-8, 3.66) for Tuesday's opener of the best-of-three matchup at Target Field.
Gausman relies mostly on a mid-90s fastball and a splitter that regularly handcuffs batters. He also works in a slider on occasion.
He described the last few days of the season as "pretty weird," given that he had to prepare for the possibility that he might be needed to pitch Sunday against Tampa Bay.
"I had to mentally prepare like I was pitching No. 162," he said. "That was kind of hard. It was a mental battle constantly to just stay locked in, in case we needed every game to get to here."
When Toronto locked up a berth after Texas beat Seattle on Saturday night, Gausman could focus on the post-season instead. The Blue Jays gave call-up Wes Parsons the start against the Rays in what served as a playoff warm-up for both teams.
Gausman, who has played for five different teams over 11 seasons, is described by teammates and management as someone who's steady, reliable and consistent.
"It just looks like he doesn't have a heartbeat," said Blue Jays outfielder George Springer. "He's always so calm, he's always so collected … he knows how to navigate the zone and he knows how to navigate his velocity.
"For us to have him going the first day is a big thing for us."
Gausman, 32, said experience has helped with his approach on the mound.
"I definitely have a heartbeat out there. It's bumpin', that's for sure," he said Monday on team workout day. "I think that comes with just being around a little bit, understanding that you can have bad innings and come back out and still have a good outing."
Gausman got the win in his last start at Target Field in late May. He worked 5 1/3 innings and allowed four hits and a run while striking out eight in a 3-1 victory.
The Twins got him back a couple weeks later at Rogers Centre. Gausman gave up six earned runs, seven hits and issued an uncharacteristic four walks in Toronto's 7-6 comeback win.
"I think that when his stuff is on, he's as good as anybody," Schneider said. "So there's been days where a lot of different teams have put together a good approach against Kevin.
"But if he's executing his stuff, it's a tough ask for any lineup."
The Twins and Blue Jays split their six matchups this season. Each team won two out of three on the road.
On Monday night, the Blue Jays named Jose Berrios — a former Twin — as their Game 2 starter. Chris Bassitt is a good bet to start if Game 3 is necessary.
Playoff rosters are expected to be released Tuesday morning.
The Twins will enter the series on an 18-game playoff losing streak. Toronto, meanwhile, has lost its last five post-season games — wild-card round sweeps in 2020 and '22 — and a Game 5 loss in the 2016 AL Championship Series.
The series winner will play the Houston Astros in the AL Division Series starting Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press